Time to put the learn in e-learn

of panicking about the slump of the dotcom industry, e-trainers should get back
to basics, says Martyn Sloman

precipitous decline in dotcom shares is raising some tough questions about the robustness
of the so-called new economy. Is the Internet all it is claimed to be? Is it
really, as Harvard professor Clayton Christensen says, “a disruptive technology
which overturns traditional markets and gives rise to entirely new products”?

importantly, as we enter HRD Week, where does all this leave e-learning, widely
identified as one of the so-called killer applications of the Internet?

executive of Cisco Systems John T Chambers has argued that education over the
Internet is so big it is going to make e-mail look like a rounding error. At a
time when the US Nasdaq index has fallen by 60 per cent since its peak last
year, such statements about e-learning are bound to appear wildly

trainers must ask themselves, was it all hype? Should we pick up our pens and
return to the flipcharts?

fact, there is no need to despair, and a more mature, balanced reflection on
the impact of the Internet is overdue. The gloomy tidings from the financial
markets could actually be good news for trainers, and more importantly, the
learners. We can now regain the initiative and shape the future of e-learning.

has happened in the first phase of e-learning, is truly exciting. The Internet
provides a new system of information, communication and distribution. Internet
protocols and publishing through the Web have given us a major new platform for
commercial business and social change. 

a result, we have witnessed a boom in the development of learning systems.
There exist now multi-faceted software packages that provide e-learning
solutions using Internet formats and protocols. This boom has been fuelled by
venture capitalists anxious to reap the benefits of the new opportunities
created by the technologies.

is the activities of vendors of new systems that have dictated much of the
agenda to date.  Trainers have been
seduced by the functionality of the technology, rather than concentrating on
its use.

should not be about computers and computing – the focus should be the learner.  

end of the uncritical acceptance of Internet-based applications is therefore,
to be wel- comed. The focus must now shift to the effective use of technology
to enhance learning.  Therefore,
training professionals must take the lead and we must start by admitting to
some critical gaps in our knowledge. We need to understand much more about
when, where and how people learn in this new context. For every individual
learner, we must find answers to the following questions. What is their
preferred learning style and what is the impact of e-learning on this
style?  Do they prefer to learn in small
bites or at an extended session?

training managers will be able to answer these questions.

of the accepted truisms of the impact of the Internet is that power will shift
from producers to consumers. In e-learning the consumer is the learner.

provision of effective learner support is now the central challenge for many in
the training profession.

Sloman is Adviser, Training and Development at the CIPD. His book The
E-Learning Revolution will be published this month by the CIPD.
Christensen C. The Innovator’s Dilemma. Boston, Harvard Business School Press,
1997  www.hbr.org/explore

Martyn Sloman

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